Morning listen: A hometown turned deportation neverland

No matter what you think about immigration, NPR’s Claudio Sanchez’ personal audio essay about returning to his hometown in Nogales, Mexico is a compelling, must-listen.

Millions of Mexicans live cross-border lives, their families kept apart by the wall, their attempts to be together for the holidays thwarted by international law and politics.

Sofia is 3 years old. Her mother, in her early 20s, says her name is Maria Del Rayo Hernandez and that they’re from Mexico City.

Her plan was to spend the holidays in New Jersey with the little girl’s father. Now, Hernandez says she’ll have to go back home to Mexico City. Crossing illegally is too dangerous, she says, which is what Agent Montiel has been saying all morning.

He warns the deportados that now that they’re back in Mexico, they shouldn’t let their guard down or trust anyone.

“You see,” Montiel tells them, “no matter how harrowing you thought your experience was on the U.S. side of the desert, there are people on the Mexican side who will prey on you.”

I was talking with Freddy the other day, a Mexican dairy worker on a Lewis County farm, for a story I’m working on.

Like so many other Mexicans in this country illegally, his decision was simple – live in poverty with few options for improvement for his newborn daughter, or make a risky trip to the United States, work long hours on a cold farm, and send money home for a new house, some land, and some savings.

What would you do?

Blame Mexico for failing to provide opportunity for its citizens.  Blame a failed immigration policy, or lax enforcement, or a porous wall.  But this is why families end up divided, and why 3 year-old Sofia ended up deportada.

But if your only option to provide for your family was to come North, would you do differently from Freddy?

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39 Comments on “Morning listen: A hometown turned deportation neverland”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Why not annex Mexico and make it a state?
    Or we could get rid of our drug laws and the DEA. Maybe ICE too.
    Or if Mexico wants to keep all its citizens in Mexico, it could pay for the Mexico/USA Wall.
    Maybe everyone could go cry at the Wall and make it into a tourist attraction by calling it the Wailing Wall of Shame.
    Our immigration laws suck and our drug laws suck.

  2. jack says:

    If I couldn’t provide for a child, I wouldn’t have had one till I was in a situation that allowed me to.

    If for some reason I was stupid or irresponsible enough to have a child in a situation like that, and I had to break laws or be separated from her to provide for her, I certainly wouldn’t expect people to feel bad for me or to change laws for me.

  3. mervel says:

    I would be interested to know about the dairy farmers efforts at hiring local farm workers? I have a hard time balancing 10% unemployment in the North Country with having to hire people from 2000 miles away from a foreign country illegally to do this work. But maybe that is just the state of the American labor market today?

  4. mervel says:

    On your question, yes I would do it.

    But to me it seems that if we have jobs and we don’t have labor to do the jobs we should be able to provide a way to bring people up here to do that work legally. This country needs people who are willing to do hard work they are an asset to the country, so I have no problem providing legal means for them to be here and work. I am not sure about citizenship, but maybe they would be fist in line that is for sure.

  5. Bret4207 says:

    Were it me and I knew of an employer willing to hire me I’d be asking that employer look into mechanisms to legally get me into the States. There are worker Visas that can be obtained legally. What’s involved I don’t know. I do know Mexico enforces it’s southern border and jails illegal aliens crossing into Mexico. Why we should do otherwise eludes me.

    As for the “why” the dairy farmers are employing illegals? It’s cheaper, they work hard, they are virtual prisoners on the farm since leaving the premises involves the risk of capture. Are there locals willing to do the work? Probably, but it would be more expensive, they would be prone to leaving for better jobs, they’d do their shift and leave, they’d be far less the slave or prisoner. I don’t mean that to sound like a harsh judgment against the farmers, it’s just the reality of the situation. I’m sure the vast majority of farmers treat their illegals as well as they’d treat anyone else. It’s tough for a farmer in the dairy industry to make ends meet as it is. I can understand why they hire the illegals, but I can’t condone it. Both the farmer and illegal are in the wrong.

  6. phahn50 says:

    I had two Guatemalans “arrested” while I was driving with them past Cranberry lake. They are now deportados. Classic racial profiling. It still makes me sick.

  7. phahn50 says:

    And David – the wall (border) isnt very porous now. They have to cross the desert for three days dodging drones. No food or water (taken by the border patrol). And yes, the Mexicans are worse, although they are mainly after money.

  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The whole system of underground illegal immigrant labor is the modern day equivalent of slavery, except that with slavery the slave holder had a financial stake in the slave. Businesses have no obligation to provide housing or health-care, they can stack them up like cordwood in a house and charge them all rent, get groceries for them and charge a fee for the service and there are always more looking for work.

    There are solutions to the problem of illegal immigrant labor. One part of the equation would be to legalize cross-border labor through a permit system. But a big part of the problem is that people wont pay an extra dime for a gallon of milk or dollar for a pallet of stone or dollar an hour for landscapers and nannies. And American workers will turn you in to the Labor Department when you try to abuse them.

    The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep fighting among themselves.

  9. Bret4207 says:

    Phan, are you saying you knowingly transported illegals?

  10. phahn50 says:

    Bret yes- I have – and I have also added a deck on the back of my house without getting a building permit, and occasionally driven my car when I knew the tail light was broken.

  11. phahn50 says:

    Bret – I believe in the value of building permits, keeping my car in safe condition, and that we cannot have an open border policy. In this case I have known the young men since they were children in their home country, and did what I could to help them when they showed up at my door (in one case literally). We have had a “dont ask dont tell” guest worker (mostly agricultural) policy for a very long time. The problem with it from a financial point is that that the workers children are entitled to social services, and the taxes that the employers pay for “guest workers” doesnt cover the cost. In essence, the state tax payers subsidize the guest workers in exchange for cheaper food. As knucklehead says above, the alternative is to pay the “legal” workers more and provide better working conditions, but pay more for agricultural products.

  12. Pete Klein says:

    Sudden thought. I sometimes get them and they are often useful to look at things from a different angle.
    Try looking at workers as you would look at any commodity. If we need raw materials, food or other natural resources, we import them. Yes, there are cases where we have the same commodities available locally but we often import because they can be imported cheaper than they would cost here.
    This is what is happening with both legal and illegal workers. It’s a case of both price and availability.
    Bret, just a note (reality check) on subsidies. They come in many forms. Tariffs are a form of subsidies. So too are HEAP and Food Stamps to name but two. When individuals receive a subsidy, the companies and businesses (including Mom & Pops) are being subsidized when the recipients purchase their products with the subsidies they received.
    It is a very tangled world we live in.

  13. phahn50 says:

    Pete- The conservatives position on “illegal” immigrants is not rational. Its thinly disguised xenophobia (or worse – out and out ethnic cleansing/scapegoating). They focus on the word “illegal”, which they insist on using as the official descriptor, and then act as if the only thing they have against the “illegal” immigrants is the illegality of their being here. They could “legalize” the immigrants easily but come up with complex moralizing reasons for not doing so.

  14. Mervel says:

    I think that we do have a work permit system. Many of the workers on Dairy farms in the North Country are from Central America and Mexico and they are here legally. But I really have no idea how the whole system works or how cumbersome it is. There are indeed parts of the illegal immigration system that from what I can tell are close to slavery or at least indentured servitude or debt slavery. These guys owe the criminal traffickers huge amounts of money for bringing them; the traffickers know where their family lives back home. In addition what is presented to the potential worker is often a big lie, when they get here they are left out to dry.

    As far as immigration reform goes the first thing I would do is grant automatic citizenship to any foreign student who desires to work here who has an advanced degree in mathematics, engineering, computer science or other areas that are in high demand and help our competitiveness. It’s crazy, these people come here and get an excellent degree often from our public university system then we force them to go back to India or China or Saudi Arabia to work they would often prefer to stay here. To me the goals of our immigration system should be to advance the wealth and prosperity of our nation. We have benefited greatly from immigration both legal and illegal over the past 250 years the key is to manage it for our benefit. But as long as we have not way of knowing who is here who is not and have no real control of the border its all meaningless anyway. We can pass whatever immigration reform we want it will all be bogus if we can’t or won’t enforce anything.

  15. Bret4207 says:

    This particular conservatives position on illegal immigration isn’t about xenophobia at all and I doubt seriously that there is any evidence to support your claim. The problem is that they are ILLEGALLY here. My ancestors immigrated here legally, many of the other people posting here have a similar background. There are mechanisms in place to come here legally, avoiding the laws because of desperate circumstances is understandable, but still wrong. Those who benefit from the illegal immigrants, transport them, assist them, while they may have noble intentions it’s still illegal. We all know the “two wrongs…” story. This is a multitude of wrongs making a gigantic wrong.

    We could legalize all the illegals, yes. Seems to me Ronald Reagan tried that. It just made the issue worse. What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same things repeatedly expecting a different outcome if you do it enough? These people are Mexicos responsibility, or whatever country they come from. Their own countries aren’t providing for them, it’s tough, and I feel for them. But sneaking into our country is akin to burglary- the ends don’t justify the means. I won’t even touch on the other problem this causes, but these folks aren’t just coming here, working hard, and going home.

  16. phahn50 says:

    My point is that it isnt the same as burglary (Its xenophobia). Burglary is stealing something. These people’s illegality is more similar to driving without a license. Its illegal, but not a crime. (and we dont want people doing it) These people are coming here to get jobs, and they arent even “stealing” jobs from Americans. As many people above have pointed out, you would think we would approach this issue from the “whats best for the country” point of view. We really want the educated immigrants, not the poor ones that need a huge investment to make them valuable citizens. But we have always taken some poor ones as well. But you conservatives arent taking that approach. You have raised this to to some kind of moral issue beyond rationality. The only explanation is xenophobia.

  17. Mervel says:

    We are one of the few countries in the world that a tourist can be passing through and have a baby in our hospitals and bingo new US citizen. If you look at Europe, Mexico, Japan, no other place just opens up their borders in this way, it makes no sense.

    I would be very much for a more open and easy way for foriegn workers to come here and do needed work. Once they have a job and are working and paying taxes then they would be able to gain citizenship at a faster pace. Why not, we need them we should welcome hardworking people who want to contribute to our economy and support our values they are an asset to the country.

    But if we continue to denigrate citizenship if we make all of the benefits of being a citizen available to non-citizens, if we don’t enforce most of our immigration laws then the very concept of citizenship itself become meaningless.

    There is no doubt that interest groups established in the US today want to encourage illegal immigration because it benefits these numerous groups. It is the only way to explain our current situation this is not happening randomly.

  18. Bret4207 says:

    Phan, burglary is entering or remaining unlawfully in a dwelling, usually to commit a crime therein. This has nothing to do with racism and xenophobia and everything to do with the rule of law and legal entry. I also note you failed to address Reagan attempt at amnesty and the lack of it working.

    Some of the best friends I ever had were Hispanic, my problem has zero to do with their race, color, national origin and everything to do with sneaking into our country illegally. They choose to avoid the legal process, they choose to avoid legal means to become citizens. It’s as simple as that. I have zero issue with legal aliens as long as they attempt to become productive citizens. This is a whole other issue beyond that.

    Create a way for them to work here under Visas that simpler and less expensive, close the borders, deport those illegals who refuse to abide by the regulations. The answers are there, it’s just no one wants to try it. It doesn’t take amnesty, it just takes a simple work Visa.

  19. phahn50 says:

    Bret – I left out the Reagan amnesty because I think that it did actually work. We just have to repeat if every 20 years or so (for one time only).

  20. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel, we do have a work permit system but obviously it is hopelessly out of date and needs a major overhaul. Also the law that grants citizenship automatically needs some revision. Perhaps a more liberal system of permits (or visa as Bret suggests) for farm labor and the like that forced the permit holder to return home on a regular basis and disallowed automatic citizenship for the children of permit holders. The problem is that there need to be enough permits that there is no black market trade in them but not an endless supply. Highly skilled workers generally don’t have much trouble getting work here.

    Of course there is much more to look at and many complexities that I don’t claim to understand.

    And there is a very real problem of actual slavery or indentured servitude to deal with but that tends to be in other communities than the Latin Americans and is usually not thought of in these discussions.

  21. Mervel says:

    Yes I agree.

    The slavery issue is huge and you are right its not just Latin Americans.

    But work and productivity needs to be supported in my opinion. I would disagree about highly skilled workers. Many times people graduating are not “highly Skilled” they have advanced degrees and it will take some time to find work. Often times they can’t find work because of their status and nothing more. In my opinion we need to be granting automatic citizenship to someone who has an advanced degree in a high need area and wants to be a citizen. Secondly anyone who can find a job here on a dairy farm or in construction should be on a very fast track to citizenship, only a year or two. These guys want to come up here and really work and they are solid family people with good values who are great additions to our society.

    But our current system hurts everyone. You just don’t enforce anything and pretty much let criminals run the show and you don’t really have any immigration policy because we are not truly serious about enforcement.

  22. Bret4207 says:

    Phan, it was supposed to be a one time deal and then we were supposed to close the borders. How you can claim it “worked” is beyond me.

  23. Mervel says:

    Why would anyone be against enforcing our current immigration law? Why would anyone be against stopping people from being here who are illegally here?

    I don’t understand that, it seems pretty simple.

    The only explanation is that it is intentional that there are political, economic and social reasons for wanting millions of people to be here illegally.

  24. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Sometimes I look around at a lot of people born here and wonder why anyone should get automatic citizenship.

  25. Bret4207 says:

    Not to go off on a tangent Knuck, but who would you bar? Those who don’t think like you but pay their taxes, work at their jobs, try and improve their communities and believe the law applies to all of us or just those who share your opinions on everything?

    Personally, I’m all for going back to only landowners having the vote. That’d really mess with peoples heads!

  26. phahn50 says:

    Bret – (and Mervel) we are never going to completely seal the borders. Half the people here illegally came here on student or tourist visas and overstayed (maybe for decades). The other half crossed the deserts at great personal expense and risk. Most plan to go home with cash to invest in a business, but many stay. We put in a lot of effort to stop it but we never will. So what do we do with the people who are here and have made useful productive lives for themselves, but dont have legal papers? What we have done is say “one time only” we will give them a path to citizenship but never again. Then we do it again 20 years later. Its a fiction that no one really believes, but there really isnt any better way (in my opinion).

  27. Pete Klein says:

    phahn is right. The whole border and illegal immigration thing is a fiction, just like the can’t win war on drugs.
    Bret, it doesn’t matter if you own a home (not really until the mortgage is paid) or rent, you still pay property taxes and should have the right to vote.
    But, if you want to take away anyone’s right to vote, I would be in favor of taking it away from me and anyone else who is 65 or older.
    Same goes for not allowing anyone 65 or older to hold public office.

  28. Mervel says:

    I realize that we will never seal the borders.

    How does France or Germany or Japan handle this situation?

    For me the key is two pronged increase border security and make it virtually impossible to work in this country for a person who is here illegally along with making it impossible to receive public services when they are here with the exception of emergency medical care. A birth for example we would of course provide but it would trigger automatic expulsion after the birth. On the other side I would like to make it easier for anybody to come here and work legally. The people that are here now and working should indeed be on a very fast track to citizenship if they want, but more important they should be made legal.
    But if we are running 1/2- 1 million illegal people coming here annually; would any sort of immigration reform matter?

  29. Mervel says:

    Considering “feddy” in the Brian Mann article. I think the dairy farmer should be able to take him down and sign him up for legal status and as long as he is not a wanted criminal it should be a really fast and easy process to make him legal. Most likely he won’t want to become a citizen but go home when he has enough money; but either way he should be legal. There is no downside at all for someone like him to be given legal status, he is contributing to our economy he is working, its good for everyone.

    Who would be against this? The only person that may be against it would be the farmer if he is paying less than legal wages, but most don’t do that even to their illegal workers.

  30. Bret4207 says:

    Again, I’m going off on a bit of a tangent but, why is no thought given to the countries these people come from? These are their citizens, they fail to provide a reasonable chance for these folks to prosper, they whine like crazy when we talk of deporting them or sealing the border. The heck with that! Seal the border ( it can be done), deport the illegals. End of story.

  31. Pete Klein says:

    If the world wide economy continues to head in the direction it seems to be heading, Americans might eventually start leaving for jobs in other countries and citizens in other countries might start asking, “Why can’t the USA ‘provide a reasonable chance for these folks to proper?’”

  32. mervel says:

    I have no problem with deportation, but why deport people who are assets to our country? The desire of people to come here is a good thing it is a good sign for us, I will worry more when no one wants to come here and everyone wants to leave in search of better opportunity.
    I am happy to take the best and the brightest from Latin America and Europe and Canada and the Far East, this is a good thing for us not a bad thing. We should make it easy for them to come here and stay and work and invent and have babies and families; but they must buy into the US system our values our country and our language. These are good things for this country.
    But it helps no one to simply encourage lack of respect for our immigration laws.

  33. oa says:

    Mervel asked: “How does France or Germany or Japan handle this situation? ”
    Here’s an answer from Japan:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/03/world/asia/03japan.html?_r=1&hp
    They plug their borders and plug their ears and hope their demographic crisis goes away. Fascinating read.

  34. Bret4207 says:

    Look into how well Mexico treats it’s illegal immigrants.

  35. phahn50 says:

    “Seal the border” Bret – we already do that. How many more billions are you willing to spend? At some point (probably several years ago) you reach the point of diminishing returns. You have to ask yourself what the point is.
    What is the problem that you are solving and is this the most cost effective way to go about it? If the problem you are trying to solve is how to get more Republicans elected using racial wedge issues, then maybe no level if illegal immigration is low enough.

  36. Pete Klein says:

    When you get right down to it, all of us a probably illegal aliens.
    I don’t believe any of our ancestors were properly naturalized by the Native Americans.

  37. Bret4207 says:

    I dunno about you Pete, but I’m a Native American.

  38. Mervel says:

    oa great article.

    I found this interesting:

    “What ensued was a revision of the immigration laws in a way that policy makers believed would keep the country’s ethnic homogeneity intact. In 1990, Japan started to issue visas to foreign citizens exclusively of Japanese descent, like the descendants of Japanese who emigrated to Brazil in search of opportunities in the last century. In the 1990s, the number of Japanese Brazilians who came to Japan in search of work, like Mr. Saito, surged.

    But the government did little to integrate its migrant populations. Children of foreigners are exempt from compulsory education, for example, while local schools that accept non-Japanese-speaking children receive almost no help in caring for their needs. Many immigrant children drop out, supporters say, and many foreign workers in Toyota City say they want to return to Brazil.”

    If your official policy is to keep “ethnic homogeneity” intact how can you expect to be respected as a developed nation? But regardless I think their problems are insightful. We can really benefit from legal immigrants who want to come here and work and have families, children are not a bad thing they are a blessing a good thing, countries need them, we all need them. But we must integrate the people that are here and we should do it legally and rationally we have to know who is here and have some control over who is coming in, right now we don’t.

    All of our reform efforts are meaningless if we have the massive illegal immigration we have today.

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